From my Hide: Mostly on birds

Great auk (whanganuiregionalmuseum)

IT is interesting to note how something like a large tree can become an eco-system all on its own.

Apart from the tree itself and all the other small flora and fauna that exist on it and in it, the most obvious members of the eco-system are the birds.

They nest in it, they feed off it, they roost in it and very importantly they use it for meetings.

We recently saw such a tree trimmed right back and watched the general consternation in the avian community.

The first evening was perhaps the most interesting, when so many birds came home to find their eco-system in a much altered state.

The consternation and confusion were obvious.

We assumed they would find alternative accommodation and we must also assume we, and the birds, can’t wait for the tree to coppice again.

Moving abroad, scientists with Revive and Restore, an American research institute, have plans to bring back the great auk, a flightless bird that became extinct in 1844, when the last specimens were killed in Iceland.

The great auk, which stood nearly a metre tall, was hunted to extinction for its down, which was used to stuff pillows.

The scientists intend to extract DNA from fossils or preserved specimens and use it to recreate the bird’s genetic code.

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These vital genes would then be ‘married’ to similar genes taken from the auk’s closest living relative, the razorbill.

Having been fertilised in vitro, embryos would be implanted in a bird big enough to lay an egg the size of an auk’s, such as a goose.

If it all succeeds, the auks would be re-introduced to one of their old breeding grounds on the Farne Islands off England’s Northumberland.

It sounds like science fiction, but this type of research and effort has been going on for some time and the results are quite positive.*

Staying with feathers, the puffins of Lundy Island, just off the coast of the English county of Devon, are back.

The puffins have bred on Lundy for hundreds of years, but rats that somehow found their way to the island devastated the population by eating its eggs and chicks.

By the year 2000 there were just five breeding pairs left, but a vigorous rat elimination campaign has saved the day and the puffins are thriving again.*

And some very important news, the IUCN has announced that the conservation status of the giant panda has been downgraded to ‘vulnerable’.

The giant panda has been considered to be on the brink of extinction for years and has become the symbol of wildlife conservation efforts worldwide.

The IUCN said that there were now around 2 000 giant pandas, up from about 1 600 in 2004, largely because of China’s conservation efforts.*

And finally, a tiny moth native to California and Mexico has been named after the new President of the United States.

The extremely rare moth has been named the Neopalpa donaldtrumpi because the golden scales on its head resemble the President’s famous hairdo and, “Hopefully to draw greater attention to the fate of endangered species…” said the discoverer.**

*Source: The Week: The Best of the British and Foreign Media.

**The Daily Maverick.

David Holt-Biddle

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